This is an AU Fic for Falling Into Place, following events if Carlos and Malik had settled down together outside of the San Francisco area. As such, this contains spoilers for and will not make sense without Falling, so you should read that work first.
Adam isn't sure why he's nervous as he sits at a bench with his cup of tea, waiting for Carlos and Malik to deplane and come out.
"You really didn't have to come, dude," he says to Nick, sitting besides him with a cup of coffee.
Nick shakes his head, smiling. "I wanted to meet your best friend. I think I really did need to come. Unless you're saying you don't want me here."
"No. I'll be nice for the two of you to meet."
Adam can't help though but wonder if Carlos is still his best friend, and he feels a pang of guilt at it. He and Carlos had been extremely close during undergrad of course, but after graduation, he had moved out to San Francisco for med school, while Carlos and Malik had moved to Chicago for jobs there, particularly because Malik had been concerned about the affordability of the bay area.
Adam had told himself to keep in touch, and he and Carlos had really tried at first, but between his busyness with classes and then evening labs, their daily calls had dropped to weekly and then even more sporadic. He'd jumped at the opportunity to host Carlos and Malik at his parents' for the holidays as a chance to reconnect. But now, as he waits to see them and he's reminded of Nick's presence by the strong scent of coffee next to him, he starts to wonder if Carlos was being replaced in some way by Nick, who he saw almost every day, and who he often spent most evenings with, buried in books at one of their apartments.
He pushes the thought aside as Carlos and Malik walk through the exit side of the security checkpoint, standing and holding his arms open. "Dude."
Carlos grins and beelines for him, wrapping him up in a hug. "Chico. I missed you."
"Same, dude." Adam closes his eyes and lets himself enjoy the embrace. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed the physical touches as well -- even if they were just platonic, he and Nick didn't really have that kind of dynamic, and he'd never been sure about whether touching Nick would be appropriate anyway.
Carlos pulls back, hands on Adam's shoulders, looking into his eyes and smiling. "You look good, dude."
Adam blushes. "I'm surprised. I spend most of my time indoors now and haven't really had enough time to exercise regularly."
"You're always gorgeous, darling," Malik says, hooking his arm around Carlos' and he drops them from Adam's shoulders, and Adam blushes. "And who is this cutie?"
"Oh, um... this is Nick," Adam says, as Nick blushes at Malik's words. "Nick, this is Carlos and Malik."
"It is very nice to meet you," Malik says, offering his hand, which Nick readily takes and shakes. "Adam's told us a lot about you. Well, Adam's told Carlos a lot about you. I just happened to be listening in sometimes."
"All good things, I hope?" Nick stuffs his hands into his pockets, a smile on his face, but obviously nervous.
"Only how you keep him sane, so thank you for that," Carlos says, patting Nick's shoulder, and Adam really likes how comfortable this feels already, feeling his fear that they wouldn't get along slowly dissipating.
"Ah." Nick glances affectionately at Adam, and Adam really likes that look. "He's been doing the same for me, so I guess we're both just really lucky that we're friends."
"So... you two are probably hungry. Want to grab some food?" Adam doesn't necessarily want to change the subject, but he thinks a more private place to catch up would be more appropriate.
"I'm always up for food, chico. I assume you have a suggestion?"
"I do. Do you have checked bags?"
"We both travel light, sweetie, so just what we're carrying." Malik indicates the roller bags both he and Carlos are dragging.
"Okay. There's a great, relatively cheap place in the city by the water. I guess it's not really great views of the water, but it's a nice place, anyway."
"Lead the way," Carlos says, and Adam starts walking toward the train to the BART station, Nick beside him.
Adam lies on his couch that night, listening to Carlos and Malik talking quietly from his bed. He wonders if he should have gotten them a hotel room or something instead so they'd be more comfortable than in his messy studio, but reminds himself it was just for one night, before his parents drove up the next day.
Nick had gotten along very well with Carlos and Malik, which was a huge relief at least, bonding surprisingly quickly over discussions about some drag reality show that had left Adam confused but still happy at watching the conversation. But as he lies there now, thinking back over the evening, it just serves as another thing that reminds him of how far apart he and Carlos have grown, and how little the two of them talk these days.
He closes his eyes, telling himself to find a way to bring it up to Carlos when he can catch him alone, sometime over the holidays.
"Can we talk, dude?" Adam wonders immediately if he should have eased into the question or asked less directly, but he wasn't sure how long Malik and his mother would be out.
Carlos nods, looking like he was expecting something like this. "Sure. What's up, chico?"
Adam scoots closer to him on the couch, and Carlos throws an arm over his shoulders, and it feels normal again, which just gives him another pang of regret.
"I've been... really bad at keeping up with you like I'd like," Adam starts, figuring it was as good a place to begin as any.
"Dude. You're extremely busy. I totally understand."
Adam shakes his head. "No. It's not that I don't have... a reason or whatever. I just really... miss you, I guess."
"I miss you too, chico. It's... definitely not the same not having you around." Carlos stares off into space, and Adam knows he's been feeling the same thing.
"I don't think there's anything we can really do about that, though. I have med school, and you and Malik have your jobs, and we're off in our own cities on opposite sides of the country."
Carlos shrugs. "I'll always love you, chico, and I know we'll always manage to stay in touch in some form no matter what, but sometimes people just grow apart because of where life takes them. And that's how it goes."
Adam hates that, but he isn't sure he can disagree with it. "I love you too, dude. I know it's not fair of me to not want things to change, but... I guess I just don't want things to change. Even though they're already changing. Even though they've already changed."
Carlos nods, but he seems to be thinking about something. "Can I be blunt?"
"Yeah?" Adam isn't sure he wants to hear whatever Carlos is going to say, but he needs to hear it anyway.
"It's okay to find a new best friend. I can't be there for you in the way you need, because you need more than a phone call every week or two. But it sounds like Nick can be there for you, and is. So if you're feeling guilty or like you're letting me down somehow by embracing that friendship, don't."
Adam isn't sure he likes that either, even though hearing is still somehow a relief. "You're still my best friend, dude."
Carlos smiles at him, affectionately. "And you're mine, dude. But I'm just saying that you shouldn't be worried about that changing. We can't have the kind of friendship you need when we're apart like this, and what I want more than anything is for you to be happy."
"That's... really selfless of you, dude." Adam isn't sure he'd be reacting the same to Carlos having a new close friend in Chicago, even though he tells himself he really should be.
Carlos shrugs, withdrawing his arm, and Adam really misses it, feeling like it's a metaphor somehow for the distance that's grown between them. "You called me that once, shortly after we met. Maybe if you say it enough, I'll start to believe it."
It's a joke, but Adam isn't sure he's in the mood for that right now. He shakes his head instead, allowing himself to scoot away. He'd never been good with metaphors. "Thanks, Carlos. Just... thanks."
Carlos smiles at him, but it's tinged with sadness, and Adam resists the urge to pat his shoulder. "You too, Adam."
Adam squeezes Carlos tighter in his arms, somehow feeling like he'd never get this again. He wants to say so many things, or somehow try to get Carlos to stay even though he knows it makes no sense for either of them, but the words all stick in his throat.
Carlos pats his back and pulls away, hands on his shoulders and looking into his eyes. "We'll keep in touch, chico."
Adam nods, swallowing the knot in his throat, trying to promise to himself that he would even though he knows it wouldn't take him long to fall back into his usual studying habits and forget about calling. "I'll do my best," he says instead, knowing it's the truth, and Carlos smiles at that for some reason and pats his shoulder before letting his arms fall.
"Can I have a hug too, honey?"
Adam laughs at that for some reason, but holds out his arms toward Malik. "Yeah. Definitely."
Malik gives him a much gentler hug than Carlos had. "You'll be okay, sweetie," Malik says quietly, into his ear, and that somehow helps.
"Ready, baby?" Carlos is looking at Malik expectantly when he and Adam break their hug.
"Yeah." Malik pats Adam's back again. "Hopefully we'll see you again soon, Adam."
"Thanks again for hosting us, chico," Carlos says, grabbing his bag as Malik grabs his. "And thank your parents for us, again."
Adam just nods, watching them walk through the security line.
"We should do something fun today," Adam says when Nick opens the door to his apartment.
Nick grins at him. "Whoa. Look who's wanting to play hooky all of a sudden."
Adam suddenly feels guilty, even though he's pretty sure Nick was teasing. "Or we could study. That's fine."
Nick shakes his head, grabbing his keys and shutting the door behind him, joining Adam in the hallway. "No. It's good to take a break from time to time. What brought this on?"
Adam doesn't want to say that it's Carlos' words, from the holiday break, that had suddenly hit him as he stared at the phone last night, wanting to call Carlos to catch up but feeling like they'd gone too long without talking and that the resulting conversation would be awkward. He'd ended up not calling, like every time he'd tried over the previous few weeks, kicking himself for it afterward, but maybe taking it as a sign that it was time for him to more whole-heartedly embrace his friendship with Nick, instead.
"Nothing," he says, instead of burdening Nick with his thoughts. "I just thought we could both use a break."
"Well, you're not wrong," Nick says, following Adam down the hallway to the stairs.
"Can I ask you something, dude?"
"Sounds like you're going to anyway," Nick says, and when Adam looks back at him, he's smirking.
"Were you interested in moving in together next year?" Adam feels more nervous than he thinks he should about asking, but it had also occurred to him last night, and he thought it made logistical sense. "We're over at each other's places a lot anyway, and I think we'd save on rent over two studios in addition to having more space. And you could be closer to the university."
Nick grins, and Adam takes that as a good sign. "Approaching this strictly from a financial optimization standpoint, I see."
"I also just... like spending time with you, dude." Adam blushes, for some reason.
Nick chuckles. "I'm just teasing. No, I think that makes sense. I honestly had been contemplating asking you the same thing, but I wasn't sure if you were tied to your place, given you actually bothered furnishing it and everything."
"You have furniture, dude!" Adam isn't sure who he's trying to convince, because he remembers how surprised he'd been the first time he's visited Nick's apartment and found only a bed, a table, and two folding chairs. He also remembers how he'd managed to break one of the chairs, probably from sitting in it far more often than it was designed for, and how he'd brought over one of his four dining chairs to replace it instead, figuring he never really had guests anyway.
"Keep saying that and maybe it'll be true," Nick says, smirking. "Or maybe asking to move in together is part of your nefarious scheme to give me even more of your furniture."
Adam laughs, pushing open the front door and walking out into the sunshine. "We could go apartment hunting today."
"It's way too early for that. And besides, you're right that we could both use a break. Let's get some ice cream and walk somewhere?"
"Sounds like a plan, dude," Adam says, following Nick as they walk toward a local ice cream shop.
Nick isn't Carlos, of course, but as he watches Nick's back, he thinks that maybe he's doing a good job filling the best-friend-sized hole in his heart anyway.
And he allows himself to be happy about it.